pinkelephant's Grand Theft Auto III (PlayStation 2) review

A Life of Crime

Grand Theft Auto III set the gaming world on fire when it came out in late 2001. It was hitherto one of the most violent and mature games ever released while creating an entirely new genre, the sandbox. All these years later,  it's still clear why this was a classic in the first place, but the dated presentation and some pacing issues make it feel slightly unpolished. As a result, GTA III doesn't feel quite as fresh as it did the day it came out, but it's still a whole lot of fun.

In Grand Theft Auto III, you take the role of an unnamed criminal who has been betrayed by his girlfriend accomplice and convicted of robbery. Fortunately, luck is on your side, and a group of professional criminals break you out of the armored car transporting you to jail for reasons you'll have to find out. From then on you're on your own in Liberty City (a city loosely based on New York City), and you'll have to find a way to stay afloat the only way you know how--with crime.

You can fulfill all of your wildest crime fantasies in Liberty City. Any car on the street is open game. You simply walk up to a car and press triangle to wrench the driver out and speed away. There are endless possibilities with this car-stealing mechanic. You can steal taxis and drive people around in a Crazy Taxi-style mini game to rack up cash, or you can steal cop cars and hunt down criminals vigilante-style. You'll also be able to get behind the wheel of an ambulance and try to get people to the hospital as fast as possible for some quick cash.

There's also lots of mayhem to be caused on foot. For example, you can start fights with anyone on the street. Whether you've got a baseball bat, a flame-thrower, or simply your bare fists, beating the living crap out of innocent civilians is always fun. There's always something to keep you occupied in Liberty City.

Liberty City is a mostly realistic atmosphere, so there are consequences for your actions. If you get out of hand and start running over too many people or try to steal a car right in front of a cop, you'll alert the police. At first you'll only have a one-star rating and the cops will forget about you if you outrun them. But once you get two or more stars, you won't be able to lose the cops unless you spend $1000 to repaint your car at the shop, making you unrecognizable to the cops. It's not like alerting the cops takes away from the fun though. Once you get farther in the game and you start getting chased by multiple cars and helicopters, it can be a blast trying to race the cops to your target before getting killed.

Although it's possible to spend hours causing random havoc in the streets of Liberty CIty, you're missing out on a lot of the fun if you don't progress in the story. Scattered across the mini-map in the bottom-left corner of the screen are markers that highlight spots where you can find new missions. Various people of power in Liberty City will give you loads of dough for you to do their dirty work.

Most missions involve some combination of stealing cars, retrieving and delivering packages, and wasting gangsters. You'll have to use your mini-map to get to your locations and do what you've been sent to do. The nature of the game encourages choices, and you'll be able to take out your targets in various ways. The quickest way to kill someone is to run them over, but if your target is in an area thats can't be reached by car, or they have enough firepower to blow up your car if you get too close, you'll have to resort to using weapons. You'll have a variety of different guns, including a pistol, some automatic machine guns, a sniper rifle, and eventually flame-throwers and rocket launchers. All of these weapons come in handy in different situations and it's a lot of fun figuring out the best way to take someone out. Every player completes missions differently, but as long as you earn the cash, it doesn't really matter how you get it done.

But what good would a whole bunch of dirty money be if you couldn't spend it? In each of the three islands of Liberty City there is a shop called Ammu-Nation where you'll be able to buy guns as well as grenades and armor. Even so, it's really difficult to get low on cash in the game. Besides buying weapons and paying one or two ransoms, you won't really have anything to spend your money on. As a result, you'll always have way more money than you need, and this makes the money you get for completing missions feel less important. It would've been more fun if cash was a little harder to come by, encouraging you to find other means of earning cash, like completing side missions or collecting taxi fares.

Most of these missions are pretty straight-forward, but the final few get cruelly difficult to the point of frustration. Once you fail a mission, you can't restart it unless you drive all the way back to the person who appointed it to you. Some of the harder missions are really long and drawn out, so you'll have to trudge through them multiples times and won't be able to retry them instantly. This becomes a problem in the final couple of missions where they pour loads of enemies on you and give you very few weapons to deal with them. It almost feels like a cheap way to lengthen the game, or just a poor decision all-around by Rockstar. These missions really detract from the experience if you're looking to complete the story without using cheats, because it's very easy to give up once you get stuck at this point.

The game's huge variety of music and fitting voice acting give it a lot of character. Whenever you get into a car you'll have a choice of several radio stations to listen to, including two talk stations. The genres range the entire gamut from classical to rap and everything in between. The talk radio stations are particularly entertaining, consisting entirely of spoofs based on racial and social stereotypes. The commercials have the same sort of satirical humor, advertising SUVs big enough to get lost in and outrageous weight loss programs involving electrocuting yourself in your sleep. Voices are also a highlight of the game. The gangsters you work for have thick New York accents and the different raced characters like the Colombians and Japanese also have fitting accents. The prostitute Maria that you'll be dealing with a lot in the game has a particularly memorable sassy voice that you'd expect from an overconfident and overpayed whore. It's also worth noting that the character you play as has no voice at all. This works out well, because it keeps the main character mysterious, but it also feels kind of odd since everyone else in the game has such a distinct personality.

While the sound is probably one of Grand Theft Auto III's greatest strengths, the graphics feel dated compared to today's standards. The world looks fairly realistic and the car models passable at best, but character models lack detail we've come to expect, like fingers and facial expressions. The colors also feel a little washed out. Most of the buildings are gray and a lot of the cars are dull shades of blue and red. The water in the game looks rather bland too -- it's basically a flat texture that sometimes moves up and down when it starts to rain. All in all, the most indicative sign of Grand Theft Auto III's age is its graphics, but in a game that's main focus is giving you a huge world to do what you want in, this really isn't that big of a deal.

All flaws aside, Grand Theft Auto III is still a classic, and this fact is evident even to people who are just now playing the game for their first time. The freedom Rockstar gave the player was unprecedented at the time, and although the missions could have been designed a little better (read: easier), this game is really fun no matter how you cut it. If you're looking for the best Grand Theft Auto experience you can find, you might want to start with the much improved upon sequels simply because they do the same thing this game does, but better. Otherwise, this is still a really fun game for any mature action fan and is well worth the five dollars or less it'll cost you.
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    Around the Christmas of 2001, there was a bit of a rivalry brewing between the PS2 and the new Xbox. Both systems had a high-profile game coming out. The PS2 had Metal Gear Solid 2, and the Xbox had Halo. But a lesser known game came out of nowhere to far more commercial success than either, a 3D sequel to a kitschy top-down driving series. It was GTA3, and it was a lot of fun. I remember playing it for the first time and being amazed by what I could do. It was the first true open-world game of ...

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